You Need a Garden Journal.

My preferred garden journal.

My preferred garden journal.

Anyone with a garden needs a garden journal. Why? Indulge me while I enumerate a few examples, in a Q & A format, of cocktail hour, garden observations that pose questions and present critical-ish thinking.

Questions/Observations:

  1. Hmm. I thought I’d put some peonies here but all I see is a huge catmint. How Odd.
  2. Geez, where did all these ugly orange daylilies come from?
  3. Wow, that catmint is *&^% huge. I must remember to divide it next year.
  4. I think that’s a weed but I’ll wait till it flowers to be sure.
  5. How great! These annuals that I put into this empty spot are glorious! I must remember that this space is reserved for iris divisions in the spring.
  6. This iris really needs to be divided. I wonder what color it is.
  7. Oh. That poor rose is really struggling there, getting swamped by the……………….I must remember to move it in the fall.

Answers/Observations:

  1. You DID put some peonies there. Three of them, fragrant ones, special ones, expensive ones, in early spring, when the ground was quite bare and there was no suggestion that the catmint would become Master of the Universe. You don’t remember? Hmmm.  Catmint is cheap; peonies aren’t. Fix this!
  2. Satan sent them.  Mark them with a 666 label, and move them to the Beelzebub Garden/Compost Pile in late fall or early spring.
  3. All the catmints will be HUGE, no matter where you put them. Lovely, yes, and the bees adore them. Commit to them. Treat them as the giant plants they will become, but not where they will shade out the other lovelies.
  4. It flowered. It’s a weed that’s now gone to seed, spreading its progeny throughout the garden. Next spring there will be a hundred of them. If you were clever enough to make a note of its leaf shape, you might have saved yourself a few hours of weeding next year.
  5. Oh sure! You’ll never remember that, and come next spring, you’ll be looking for locations for iris divisions and you’ll have long forgotten about this spot.
  6. Photos will answer that question. If you’d photographed the gardens you wouldn’t be perpetuating this hugely irritating,’ hit or miss’ garden design approach, which, by the way, you would never in a million years, permit for your clients!
  7. But, you won’t. Not without a garden journal ‘To-Do’ List, entitled Fall 2014. When fall begins to roll around, which is right around the corner, you’ll be busy harvesting winter squash and leeks, chopping and splitting wood, moving tender plants into the greenhouse, bringing in firewood, lifting dahlia tubers, cleaning out the henhouse,…forget it.

And this is why I recommend keeping a Garden Journal. I’m a Luddite, so I like to use one that I purchase from Lee Valley, which has a perpetual calender and allows for an index/table of contents to reference the numbered pages. Here, I can make journal entries with their correlative page numbers, which makes referencing information very simple. Of course you could use an electronic device to do this, and there’s probably even an app for garden journaling. The main objective here is to take control of your landscape and gardens, as much as one can do such a thing, so as to avoid disappointment next season. A Garden Journal is a wondrous thing! Over the years, when  questions arise over how things were performing in the garden in the past, I simply scroll through the entries and discover the answers. It’s great fun and hugely useful and enlightening! Gardeners!!!!  Get a garden journal going, if you don’t already have one, and you’ll be gratified to learn what you have control over and what you don’t. It’s a great thing to have.

Pesto

Pesto has always been a mainstay here. We process and freeze gallons of basil pesto in August.  When the frigid Persephone months of December, January, March, February arrive, we are warmed with woodfires and our dinners are perfumed with the promise of a future summer with abundant servings of linguine with pesto, washed down with Cotes du Rhone. Alas, Andrew’s diabetes diagnosis changes this, and we look for meals in which we can substitute the pasta. Not so hard, as it turns out. Pesto omelettes are delicious. Pesto mixed with greek yoghurt makes a nice sauce to braise chicken breasts in. Basmati rice is more diabetes friendly than brown rice (believe it or not), and so fried basmati rice with pesto and scrambled eggs makes a nice entree. Pesto, as a spread or dip, in lieu of mayonaisse, makes even a cucumber sandwich delicious. Similarly, pesto mixed with no-fat yoghurt, easily becomes the mortar for chicken salad, tuna salad, salmon salad, even egg salad.

For those without dietary restrictions, there’s still the classic. ( I will do this when Andrew is out of town, or asleep) ,linguine  dressed with pesto that’s been soothed and silkened with heavy cream (okay, or yoghurt……since there won’t be any cream in our pantry).

By the way, these days, I use toasted walnuts or almonds, in lieu of pine nuts.  I cannot justify the expense in regards to flavor.

My Pesto Recipe: Throw all of the following into the food processor.

3 cloves garlic

4 cups Basil leaves

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. sea salt

1 cup toasted nuts (walnuts, almonds, your choice)

3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

 

Foodies will dissuade you from adding the cheese if you plan on freezing the goods. Follow your instinct. I, personally, notice no difference, and simply don’t have time to add another step of adding cheese after I’ve defrosted the pesto.  I’ve got stuff to do.

Upcoming Dry Stone Wall Building Workshop

Participants gain confidence using unfamiliar tools through one-on-one instruction.

Participants gain confidence using unfamiliar tools through one-on-one instruction.

It’s that time of year again! On Saturday, Sept. 20th and Sunday, Sept. 21st, 2014,  Andrew Pighills will be conducting another dry stone wall building workshop here at Stonewell Farm.

This two-day, hands-on,  workshop instructs homeowners and tradespeople the structural techniques involved in building a dry stone wall. The outdoor classroom provides the setting for practicing proper dry stone walling methods including safety, batter, hearting, throughs, and capstones.  Knowledge gained will prepare students for their own projects and help train their eyes to identify proper walling techniques in all dry-stone walls. Registration is limited to 16 participants, who must be 18 years of age or older. Cost includes an evening “Pizza Rustica’ dinner, prepared on-site in a hand-built stone, wood-fired oven crafted by the instructor.
Cost: $320  Pre-registration is required.

To register: contact Michelle Becker, Workshop Administrator
tel. 860-322-0060

Email: mb@mbeckerco.com

Visitors to the Garden

poppies in perennial border

Last weekend was our Open Garden Day. The weather was, weathery.

Two days before the event, the peonies, what some call ‘the queens of the garden’, were the picture of perfection and we hoped against hope that their splendor would hold out through the weekend. Alas, their natural senesence and strong winds deprived visitors of the indescribable beauty that Andrew and I witnessed on May 28th. Nevertheless, peonies alone do not a garden make, and the catwalk challengers;  roses, poppies, nepeta, salvia, foxgloves, honeysuckle, clematis pulled together as a team along with the hostas, lady’s mantle and colorful shrubs, to dethrone the peonies and assert their own collective beauty.

Foxgloves, nepeta, salvia, agastache combine well in the garden.

Michael Fogg’s incredibly beautiful sculpture as garden furniture, must be seen and touched to be believed.

'faux bois' bench created by Michael Fogg

“Faux Bois’ bench created by Michael Fogg

We hosted a cocktail party after the event to give people a chance to learn more about Mike’s creative process as well as to introduce long-time firends and clients to one another. It was a fun time, and birds of a feather flocked together. Speaking of that, of our 28 free-range chickens, only Benazir, the matriarch, who understands that scratching in the perennial borders doesn’t go over well here,  was permitted to mingle with the crowd. She’s a clever bird and quickly sussed out who was most likely to drop their cheese and cracker, and hung around them, tactfully but alert. She too enjoyed the party; immensely.

Interview with Myself as Gardener

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

INTERVIEW WITH MYSELF

Many visitors come to see our gardens and when they do it’s always an honor and a pleasure to stroll with them and  talk about the gardens. Usually, when I do this, I tend to notice the flaws, a plant that needs staking or cutting back, weeds  that escaped my notice earlier, an embarrassingly unsuccessful color combination, that sort of thing. Now, tonight, at dusk, in the muted, soft light that filmakers call “the magic hour”, the gardens are at their poetic, romantic, best  and I am able to enjoy what characterizes our gardens; the effusiveness of the plantings, the ebulliance of the colors, and their impressionistic quality.  My thoughts turn to other gardeners and their gardens. I imagine myself walking through them in the company of their authors; a thousand questions come to mind. I want to understand the garden through the mind and the mind’s eye of the gardener. Perhaps visitors to our gardens are too polite, or, maybe, the gardens are so unusual, because in our ‘neck of the woods’ (literally) gardens with full sun or so rare, that questions about intent or design don’t seem to surface.The questions I would ask of any gardener, are, the questions I now ask myself. This will, of course, bring me full circle to observing flaws. But that’s okay. (I also intend to interview Andrew and ask him the very same questions. I’ll do it and post it here and on his blog. Heave and Hoe.) So, here’s my interview with myself:

Q: Of all the numerous garden areas here at Stonewell, do you have any favorites?

A: Yes, but these change with, well, I won’t say the seasons, because our gardens are not designed for fall and winter interest, but maybe with the months. At the moment, I’m fond of the herb garden. The roses; the beautiful, striped Honorine de Brabant, the exquisite Pierre de Ronsard, and the climbing Iceberg are all flowering in shades of pink and white, and the salvia officinalis and chives, flowering at their feet, as they ought,  in moody shades of blue and lavender, and the thyme in a whitish froth, make for a poetic  garden moment. The giant rhubarb leaves and the grapes, climbing up the hen pen fence add an earthy, utilitarian charm and a gratifying sense of abundance.

At the moment, the driveway border is  a source of refreshing entertainment, because I sow hundreds of poppy seeds there each year and there’s no telling what will crop up, and now is the time that the poppies are emerging. I think there’s a lot of cross pollination going on. We’re seeing a tremendous variety of blooms colors and many striated bicolors. Great fun! (Harvesting the seed pods in July and August, resulting in quart containers full of seeds…somewhat less fun, untill you remind yourself of the fun to come)!

Q: If you had an unlimited budget what would  you change in your gardens?

A: How ‘unlimited’? Unlimited like buying an island, rounding up all the deer in the state and shipping them to that island?  Probably not. ‘Unlimited’, like, I can wrap my head around the multiple zeroes and decimal points?  OK. First, I would fence the property from deer. Next, I would hire Andrew Pighills to create some beautiful stonework and hardscaping; particularly a stone patio at the back of the house, easily accessible from the kitchen, defined by an 18” high stone wall with smooth capstones for comfortable seating. Next I would commission a sculpture from Dan Snow for the Memorial Garden. Then, I would commission Michael Fogg  to create a series of garden benches,  that would be made in  three or four sections, to encircle the magnolia tree.  Next, I would create a better driveway and a suitable parking area. (I’m fond of crushed oyster shells, but pea gravel would do). Next on the list, define the grassy, or what others might call ‘lawn’ areas and plant groundcovers that would require no mowing, and reduce our carbon footprint.  I would expand the orchard and steal the idea that I saw at Levens Hall in Cumbria, England, namely, plant a wildflower meadow amidst the fruit trees, and then mow clean, clear , rectilinear paths between them.  The result was lovely: square ‘foundations’ of wildflowers at the base of each fruit tree and crisp, fresh paths that invited one to engage with the landscape.(Those gardeners at Levin’s Hall  were no slackers  in the ornamental kitchen garden, either, ..but that’s a subject unto itself).

Q: What aspect of your gardens do you feel are the least successful?

A: Aesthetically or horticulturally?  The gardens  at Stonewell are a work in progress. We have killed many plants, things that ought to have done well in certain locations but simply did not. (We have trouble with Mountain Laurel, for example). The Fruit Garden is a recent transformation from a flower cutting garden/ vegetable garden annex  to a garden that serves only to create either dessert or jams and jellies, with the exception of the asparagus, which, after a  long  winter, are practically dessert,  if blanched, and tossed with homemade, egg  fettuccine with   cream and parmesan (I digress).  To my mind, the least successful gardens  are those in which we’ve been a bit too permissive with the self-sowers, that is, the self-sowers that I don’t love.( FYI, these gardens have two gardeners with different opinions). We need to edit out much of the anthemis, and the agastache and the bog standard daylilies, which seem to crop up when we’re not looking.  There’s a preponderance of the wild rudbeckias, weeds to me, but endearing creatures to the other gardener. On the subject of structure, I would prefer more. On the subject of color, I continue to aim for greater control of the structural plants, and their flowering sequences and yet, encourage the mindful ‘haphazard’, chaotic quality that self-sowers contribute to making the garden seem new and different every year.

The ‘potager’, or, Kitchen Garden would be a more pleasurable work area destination for me if it were level. I long for raised beds, and the organizing, structural quality that they provide, but our soil is so sandy that we will have to continue to add vast quantities of manure and compost and till it in with our tractor for a long time coming before we have the quality of soil to establish raised beds.

Privacy. This falls within the ‘unlimited budget’ category. At between $5000. and $10,000. per tree we could create a $ 100,000. privacy buffer that would enable me to drink my tea and write on the aforementioned, non-existant patio, at 7:00 am in my pajamas, without any sense of obligation to wave  a cheery ‘Hello’ at all and sundry. Bliss.

Q: What aspects of your gardens do you feel are the most successful?

A: Garden areas that have a backdrop of shrubs and trees, in other words,  mixed borders; garden areas where we’ve incorporated greater structure possess a more established quality. We propagate many of the plants in our gardens in our greenhouse and so there is repetition in the gardens. This is desireable.  On the other hand, when we do purchase plants or shrubs we do it mindfully. Cotinus coggygria, both the purple leafed and the golden leafed, and the physocarpus, both golden and purple leafed ‘Ninebarks’, play leading roles in setting a theme for the color palettes in the gardens.

Successful stone wall building workhop

Dry Stone Wall Building Workshop_Spring 2012

An enthusiastic group learns how to build a dry stone wall at Stonewell Farm in Killingworth, CT.

Andrew Pighills conducted a successful dry stone wall building workshop here at Stonewell Farm this past weekend. The weather was made to order and the participants were as well; a really amazing group who possessed advanced teamwork skills and were particularly attentive to understanding and implementing the dry stone wall building principles that they were learning. The section of wall that they built is something they can all be proud of.

Upcoming Dry Stone Wall Building Workshop in Connecticut

Stonewall Building Workshop
Andrew Pighills, and additional instructors
Two-day workshop limited to 16
Apr. 28-29, 2012
Tuition: $300
Registration deadline: March 6, 2012

Learn what it takes to build a dry stone wall from Dry Stone Walling Association–certificate qualified wallers. Build a free-standing wall by applying four basic principles and employing a few simple techniques. From “founds” to “throughs” to “copes,” each stage in the construction will be explained and demonstrated. Participants will strip out an existing wall, prepare a base, and build up a double-faced wall using native stone. This is a great chance to try something new or fine-tune skills you already have.

The workshop is a two-day event, Sat. April 28th and Sun., Apr. 29th, 2012 and will be held at Stonewell Farm, 39 Beckwith Road in Killingworth, Connecticut. All instruction is on an individual basis. Pre-registration is required, as the workshops fill up quickly and enrollment is limited to 16 participants.

To register, contact:
Michelle Becker, Workshop Administrator
e-mail: mb@mbeckerco.com
Tel. 860-322-0060

Shoretalk Features Andrew Pighills

Shoretalk with Andrew airs:

Weds., July 21st, 7:30 pm Channel 19, Public Access Channel

Monday, July 19, 2010

Producer, Belinda Jones has put together a new cable program, with host Dr. Kathleen Skoczen, called “Shoretalk; People, Trends and Lifestyles”. In May, following the very successful Dry Stone Walling Workshop at the Parmelee Farm, Belinda asked Andrew if he would appear on the show to talk about the workshop and dry stone wall building in general. They taped in June and the program will air this Wednesday, July 21st, at 7:30 pm on our local Cable Public Access Channel 19.

Belinda Jones is a dynamic woman whose vast experience in marketing and public relations has fine-tuned her ability to connect the dots and find the interesting stories that enrich our lives here along the Connecticut Shoreline. Dr. Kathleen Skoczen hosts the program with intelligence, enthusiasm and insight. I hope you’ll share this post with your shoreline friends and invite you to watch the program this Wednesday evening. For those who don’t have access to our local channels, Andrew has added some photos of the walls that were completed during the last workshop and, in particular, two special features; the lunkie and the stile.

The 'lunkie' in the Parmelee farm wall

Stile in the wall

The stile in the Parmelee Farm wall